BY LOVE POSSESSED lays its lusting on the line, the script showering morsels like “You made me feel like I was an animal…before I knew I was one.” That trophy-to-tramp nugget is issued by Lana Turner in her fifth melodrama in a row, a slate begun with the sin-smash Peyton Place. This slick, silly, guilty pleasure from 1961 came from 1957s best-selling novel, a 576-page Peytonish potboiler from James Gould Cozzens. Guy-movie specialist John Sturges was pressed into directing it, producer Walter Mirisch gave it a solid cast (mostly) in a handsome $2,500,000 package photographed by Russell Metty. Charles Schnee (The Bad And The Beautiful, BUtterfield 8) wrote the fulsome script under the pseudonym ‘John Dennis’; he wasn’t thrilled with how it all turned out (other hands did revisions). Nor were director, stars or critics (well, they were happy to poke at it), and it did mediocre box office, $5,300,000, 43rd place contending with the year’s sister soap bubblers Return To Peyton Place, Parrish and Back Street. *
We witness the private turmoil behind the public lives of a Massachusetts law firm, nestled in a town enslaved to tradition. Defense attorney ‘Arthur Winner’ (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is such a rigid workhorse that he’s alienated his wife and son. Financial expert ‘Julius Penrose’ (Jason Robards) is partially paralyzed, his seeming impotence and shame sending spurned wife ‘Marjorie’ (Turner) on a spiral of boozing and longing (making sure to take some ‘release’ with horse-jumping workouts in the woods), the latter putting her and man-of-oak Arthur on a collision course to carnal knowledge. Blustery senior partner ‘Noah Tuttle’ (Thomas Mitchell) has embezzled funds from an account held by sweet and virginal ‘Helen Detwiler’ (Susan Kohner), who pines for Arthur’s cynical son ‘Warren’ (George Hamilton), but the smug jerk is doing the horizontal bop with town slut ‘Veronica Kovacs’ (Yvonne Craig), who has a quirky-naughty habit of referring to herself in the 3rd person. ”Nobody treats Veronica like a tramp but Veronica!”
While Turner, 39, is first-billed, and outfitted to mantrap, the lion’s share of screen time belongs to resolute Zimbalist, 42, taking a break from his hit TV series 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), his hair stylishly greyed-up to look distinguished and fatherish (“Eph, the good news is you get to make out with Lana Turner… but, uh, your punk son is George Hamilton”). Robards early movie roles (this was his 2nd) were a succession of depressed characters (The Journey, Tender Is The Night, Long Day’s Journey Into Night): he later called this “the worst film ever made.” A bit harsh, there’s a lot of company on Bean Hill (he later did a fine job for Sturges on Hour Of The Gun).
The autumnal Massachusetts locations (around Groton and Fitchburg) are pleasing, and there’s lovely work from Susan Kohner, who manages to make even scenes with Hamilton work. Trash tease comes from Yvonne Craig, bringing vixen moves as the bad girl who spins the plot to full steam ahead: I remember seeing this on TV as a kid and watching her sashay her 23-year-old self around, rethought what I wanted for Christmas (this was six years before she was poured into her ‘Batgirl’ costume, so me and a million other guys were pre-primed).
“Your generation doesn’t have a monopoly on sex…you just talk about it more.”
Capping the script’s indulgence in parboiled dialogue is a florid score from the usually sublime Elmer Bernstein that goes overboard with a megaphone: as a rule, we love Bernstein’s soundtracks, but he really laid on the dramatic sap with this, almost a caricature of “lush romance”. In a way it’s perfectly bad, so maybe he correctly read the film. He’d later do a marvelous retro score for the 50s-set period drama Far From Heaven, which consciously emulated the look and mood of oldies like this. Bernstein did five other scores for Sturges films: The Magnificent Seven, A Girl Named Tamiko, The Great Escape, The Hallelujah Trail and McQ.
115 minutes of gloss (burnish those law office bookshelves with mahogany and let Lana show some skin) and chuckles (every other sentence), with Barbara Bel Geddes (“quick, cast someone less exciting”), Everett Sloane, Gilbert Green, Carroll O’Connor (as a cop), Frank Maxwell and Jean Willes.
* Sturges: “Eighty percent of the book is introspection. We are not going to try to cope with introspection. What we have done is sheer editing. If we told the book on the screen we would be making an eighteen-hour picture…If you want that, read the book.”
“You get to the point where you think you can handle anything. I knew I had no business making that picture. Sure it was well acted and staged, but it just didn’t amount to anything…I couldn’t care less about those people. I didn’t like ’em, didn’t understand ’em. And if you don’t understand people in a given situation and you don’t like what’s happening, you shouldn’t try to make a movie out of it. But you do because you get talked into it and think you can get around it…or you need the money, or some goddam thing.”